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Mutagenesis. 2013 Mar;28(2):127-34. doi: 10.1093/mutage/ges064. Epub 2012 Nov 30.

Does a role for selenium in DNA damage repair explain apparent controversies in its use in chemoprevention?

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Department of Pathology, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.


The trace element selenium is an essential micronutrient that has received considerable attention for its potential use in the prevention of cancer. In spite of this interest, the mechanism(s) by which selenium might function as a chemopreventive remain to be determined. Considerable experimental evidence indicates that one possible mechanism by which selenium supplementation may exert its benefits is by enhancing the DNA damage repair response, and this includes data obtained using cultured cells, animal models as well as in human clinical studies. In these studies, selenium supplementation has been shown to be beneficial in reducing the frequency of DNA adducts and chromosome breaks, consequentially reducing the likelihood of detrimental mutations that ultimately contribute to carcinogenesis. The benefits of selenium can be envisioned as being due, at least in part, to it being a critical constituent of selenoproteins such as glutathione peroxidases and thioredoxin reductases, proteins that play important roles in antioxidant defence and maintaining the cellular reducing environment. Selenium, therefore, may be protective by preventing DNA damage from occurring as well as by increasing the activity of repair enzymes such as DNA glycosylases and DNA damage repair pathways that involve p53, BRCA1 and Gadd45. An improved understanding of the mechanism of selenium's impact on DNA repair processes may help to resolve the apparently contradicting data obtained from decades of animal work, human epidemiology and more recently, clinical supplementation studies.

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